Children Deprived of Liberty

More than one million children are currently imprisoned by justice systems worldwide, and others are limited due to their mental or physical health or for national security reasons. While the exact number of children affected by these restrictions is unknown, we do know that children deprived of liberty are exposed to increased risk of violence, abuse, social discrimination, and a denial of their civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. While detained, children are often deprived of education and other social services. Despite evidence that depriving a child of liberty is harmful, quality data on child detention is lacking and so many States do not have a clear indication of the scope of the issue or information about how to address it.

The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (GSCDL) will collect both quantitative and qualitative data on children in detention. This important study, which has been under discussion since the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly Convention on the Rights of the Child, will shed light on the scale and conditions of children deprived of liberty so that the number can be reduced or eliminated. The study will map out how existing international standards and laws are being implemented on the ground, identify good practices for effective measures to prevent human rights violations against children in detention centers, and make recommendations about how States can improve their policies and responses.

Manfred Nowak, a professor of international law and human rights and former UN Special Rapporteur on torture, will lead the study as an Independent Expert. The study’s output is intended to be an “in-depth, comprehensive global report” to be presented to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) at its 73rd regular session in 2018.

ACEI’s UN Representative Cassandre Guibord Cyr attended a meeting with Professor Nowak hosted by GSCDL’s NGO Panel in Geneva on November 22, where he discussed the study and the challenges ahead.

During the meeting, Nowak raised concerns about the issue of available data on the number of children deprived of liberty, the length of the deprivation, as well as the context (migration, conflict, etc.). Nowak also talked about the need to collect, study, and analyze the material already available. To move forward with the study, expert consultations in diverse areas and identification of best practices by States will be important. However, Nowak also raised concerns about the pressing need for funding to carry out the study.

The main questions and concerns expressed by some of the NGOs focused on detention of children in the context of migration and the timing and scope of the study.

Regarding the timing, Nowak stated that, realistically, the study will not be achieved in time for the 2018 UN session. Instead, an interim report will be submitted for Fall 2017 that documents the current status of the study and asks for an extension to submit the final version in July 2019. Nonetheless, Nowak specified that this schedule will depend greatly on the availability and quality of the data.

Regarding the scope, Nowak stated that the study will address the issue of deprivation in the largest sense, but there are limits. The study will primarily, but not exclusively, consider deprivation of liberty by State actors, juvenile justice, and police custody. It will also address concerns such as the age limit for criminal responsibility, hidden detention space, long-term institutionalization, children with disabilities, children living in prison with an incarcerated parent, and much more. The most pressing issue is the detention of children in migration or conflict contexts as well as detention of child refugees, for whom the data is sparse and not easily collectable.

The study will be a strong compendium of data and best practices, but will also address root causes and hopefully provide alternatives for detention with a formal analysis. It will also provide a methodology to gather data from monitoring mechanisms and the utilization of existing ones, such as the SDGs framework.

For more information:

NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty:

Join the NGO Panel (operated by Defence for Children International and Human Rights Watch), which coordinates and promotes the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty

Anne Bauer